What are the pathophysiologic targets of scorpion venom?

Updated: Nov 09, 2018
  • Author: David Cheng, MD; Chief Editor: Joe Alcock, MD, MS  more...
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Answer

Scorpion venom is a water-soluble, antigenic, heterogenous mixture, as demonstrated on electrophoresis studies. This heterogeneity accounts for the variable patient reactions to the scorpion sting. However, the closer the phylogenetic relationship between the scorpions, the more similar the immunological properties. Furthermore, the various constituents of the venom may act directly or indirectly and individually or synergistically to manifest their effects. In addition, differences in the amino acid sequence of each toxin account for their differences in the function and immunology. Thus, any modifications of the amino acid sequence result in modification of the function and immunology of the toxin.

Scorpion venom may contain multiple toxins and other compounds. The venom is composed of varying concentrations of neurotoxin, cardiotoxin, nephrotoxin, hemolytic toxin, phosphodiesterases, phospholipases, hyaluronidases, glycosaminoglycans, histamine, serotonin, tryptophan, and cytokine releasers. The most important clinical effects of envenomation are neuromuscular, neuroautonomic, or local tissue effects. The primary targets of scorpion venom are voltage-dependent ion channels, of which sodium channels are the best studied. Venom toxins alter these channels, leading to prolonged neuronal activity. Many end-organ effects are secondary to this excessive excitation. Autonomic excitation leads to cardiopulmonary effects observed after some scorpion envenomations. Somatic and cranial nerve hyperactivity results from neuromuscular overstimulation. Additionally, serotonin may be found in scorpion venom and is thought to contribute to the pain associated with scorpion envenomation.


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